Winter Recreation

McCall is a full-service destination for Nordic skiing

Rick Hudson, Pam Davis and Jordan Lawley of McCall effortlessly glided across glistening white terrain in Little Bear Basin near McCall.

It was a fresh winter day with fresh snow, freshly groomed trails, freshly waxed skis and fresh legs adjusting to them after the summer layoff.

"This is awesome," Lawley said.

The trio skated along rolling hills, climbing into ponderosa groves before dipping into open meadows. They stopped to chat with other skiers along the way, including Lyle Nelson, a four-time Olympic biathlete and McCall native.

Nelson has traveled the world skiing, but he's always come home to McCall.

"It's nearly the best of everything, scenic terrain, good snow, long season and people who love it," he said. "I love it here because of our history, too. Skiing is just woven into the fabric of the community."

McCall has long been a Nordic skiing destination. It has hosted the Junior Olympic National Championships three different times, and in 2008, it will host the World Masters World Cup, which will bring international skiers to the area.

For decades, the Little Ski Hill, operated by the Payette Lakes Ski Club, and Ponderosa State Park offered groomed trails and cemented the area's reputation for great Nordic skiing. And in the last decade, the addition of trails at Tamarack Resort, Jug Mountain Ranch and the Activity Barn means there are about 100 kilometers of groomed trails in the McCall/Donnelly area.

It's also become a full-service Nordic destination where you can get lessons, buy or rent equipment, find trails for all abilities, and if you're energetic, compete in local races.

If skiing isn't your thing, but you still want to get out in the snow, the areas also offer great places for snowshoeing, and most offer a place to get drinks, snacks or a meal after you've worn yourself out on trails.

Here's a rundown of the Nordic skiing and snowshoeing opportunities in the McCall/Donnelly area: 

Little Ski Hill

The Little Ski Hill's new trails in Bear Basin offer intermediate to advanced terrain with some novice trails. There are about 25 kilometers of groomed trails and a yurt at the parking area.

The terrain is a great mix of open meadows and ponderosa forests. The trails offer some of the highest elevation Nordic trails in the area, which they often get more snow and keep it longer than other areas.

Day pass: $6.

Dogs allowed: Yes, on some trails. There's an extra $2 daily fee for dogs.

Snowshoe trails: Snowshoes are allowed on groomed trails, but the real fun is off trail. There are great ponderosa groves and meadows for hiking off the groomed trails.

Rentals: No.

Getting there: From McCall, go west on Idaho 55 about 2 miles and watch for the parking area and yurt on the right side of the highway about one-tenth of a mile past Milepost 147.

Information: www.littleskihill.org or call (208) 634-5691.

Tamarack Resort

Tamarack has it all for Nordic skiers — 25 kilometers of Nordic trails and 15 kilometers of snowshoe trails. The ski resort also features the only snow-making system for Nordic trails in the area.

The trails offer a variety of experiences from winding trails in meadows and aspen groves to heavily forested trails with towering pines, firs and tamaracks.

Snowmaking and nightly grooming ensure optimal terrain. Visitors also have access to all the resort's amenities, including lodges, pro shops, restaurants and many other attractions.

Day pass: Early season (until Dec. 17) adult $9, youth (7 to 17) $5, under 6 are free. Regular season prices, adult $13, youth $7.

Dogs allowed: Yes, with a $3 charge.

Snowshoe trails: Yes.

Rentals: Yes.

Getting there: Take Idaho 55 to Donnelly, then go west on West Roseberry Road and follow the signs to the resort.

Information: www.tamarackidaho.com; (208) 325-1111.

Ponderosa State Park

The park has about 23 kilometers of Nordic trails ranging from recreational to competition to accommodate all abilities.

The trails wind through the 1,000 park located on a peninsula in Payette Lake. The trails wind through dense ponderosa forests and up to Osprey Point, which offers great views of Payette Lake.

The park also has 3.4 miles of designated snowshoe trails through the forest that offer viewpoints of the lake.

A visitors center where you can get drinks and snacks, or just warm your toes is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., .

Ponderosa State Park and McCall will host the 2008 Masters World Cup, which will attract competitors from throughout the world.

Day pass: $2 per person and also a $4 motor vehicle entrance fee.

Dogs allowed: Yes, on the designated dog loop.

Snowshoe trails: Yes.

Rentals: No.

Getting there: From downtown McCall, watch for the signs to the park and take Railroad Ave to Davis Avenue and Davis Avenue to the park.

Information: www.idahoparks.org, (208) 634-2164.

Jug Mountain Ranch

The ranch plans to start its grooming operations around Dec. 15. It has about 18 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that all are open to the public.

The trails pass by creeks, lakes and meadows and into nearby forests. Because of its open and gentle terrain, it's a great place for beginning skiers to get the feel of the sport.

Day pass: Adults $6.50, juniors (12-18) $4.50, Kids under 12, free.

Dogs allowed: Yes.

Snowshoe trails: Yes.

Rentals: Snowshoe rentals are available.

Getting there: From Idaho 55 at Lake Fork, go east on East Lake Fork Road and cross Farm to Market Road where the entrance to the Jug Mountain Ranch.

Information: www.jugmountainranch.com or call (208) 634-5072.

Activity Barn

About 7 kilometers of Nordic trails are groomed for skate skiing, and it's a great place for beginners because there's open terrain with few hills. Trails follow the Payette River and head through the River Ranch subdivision which has lots of trees and several ponds.

Snowshoers can go on the groomed trails or off them.

The Activity Barn also has a tubing hill for when your legs burn out, and a yurt that sells refreshments.

Day pass: $5 for adults, kids 12 and under free.

Dogs allowed: Yes.

Snowshoe trails: Yes.

Rentals: No.

Getting there: From the first stop light on Idaho 55 in McCall, go west on Deinhard Lane and south on Mission and then west on Moonridge. Watch for signs.

Information: Activitybarn.com or (208) 634-2222.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Roger Phillips at rphillips@idahostatesman.com or 373-6615.

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